Players to watch: Under 21 European Championships
Because it’s the only football on TV at the time
It is difficult to overstate just how strong the competition will be in Denmark over the next fortnight. Belarus are the outsiders at 25/1 to win the tournament, and yet even they beat Italy 3-0 in the second leg of their playoff to qualify.
England, although the highest ranked team in UEFA, will have a tricky test on just to qualify from the group with Spain and the Czech Republic both currently heavyweights at this level.
With the tournament live on Sky Sports, you would be a fool not to get some football fill. Here is a profile of the players to watch, one representative from each country:
Christian Eriksen – Denmark
Nothing like a potential world star being born in 1992 to make you feel old, is there? Despite playing 14 times already for the senior side (though only 19 in February), Eriksen has been drafted into the Danish squad for the tournament. Evidently as hosts they do not want to leave with a whimper.
Eriksen’s talent means he has yet to make his under 21 debut, but the attacking midfielder is likely to shine for the senior side for the next decade, and there are already reported overtures from Barcelona, just a year after Ajax managed to snap him up for just £1million.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – Iceland
A name that should already be more than familiar to English fans, the Icelandic striker left Reading to join Hoffenheim for £7million last summer. If he hadn’t then a strikeforce of Sigurdsson and Shane Long would surely have seen Reading promoted.
Voted fans’ player of the season at Hoffenheim, Sigurdsson has scored six goals in his eleven games at this level, including two incredible strikes against Scotland recent. The new Eidur Gudjohnsen, don’t you know?
Mikhail Sivakov – Belarus
The principal reason for Belarus’s status as outsiders is largely due to the fact that star player Vladimir Yuchenko suffered ligament damage in the playoff with Italy.
Fear not, captain Sivakov is also an impressive young talent, and is on loan to Wisla Krakow from Cagliari in Serie A.
In truth, probably the most inauspicious player in our list, and may struggle to pull his side through the group stage.
Xherdan Shaqiri – Switzerland
Will this be the tournament that has more club scouts attending than ever before? Quite possibly is the unnecessary answer to that rhetorical question.
The majority will be there to watch Shaqiri, the new Swiss sensation that has terrorised England on two occasions already. Still only nineteen, the Basel attacking midfielder was a surprise pick for the World Cup last year, but has already displayed talents that mean he is likely to be leaving the Alps sooner rather than later.
Tomas Pekhart – Czech Republic
Another player with English connections having played for Tottenham and Southampton in the past, although it would be fair to say that the youngster didn’t excel in England after progressing from the Spurs academy.
The top scorer in qualifying for the finals, Pekhart has settled in Czech football, but one feels that his time may have come to again test himself in foreign climes.
This tournament provides a perfect opportunity for Pekhart to demonstrate the finishing that has made him the record scorer for the Czech under 21s.
David de Gea – Spain
There is a wealth of talent to choose from within the Spanish squad, with players such as Diego Capel, Bojan, Jeffren and Javi Martinez known to fans of La Liga. However, with his assumed arrival at Old Trafford, it is goalkeeper de Gea who will attract the most interest from English fans.
A formidable shot-stopper (though all keepers should be), de Gea had won a Europa League and Super Cup before he had turned 20, and by the time he leaves Atletico he will have made almost 100 appearances for the club.
The new Schmeichel or the new Taibi?
Taras Stepanenko – Ukraine
As often with Eastern bloc countries, it is very difficult to pick out star players in the Ukraine squad (and yes Shevchenko is the past exception), partly because they have such an evident team ethic but mainly because all their players play in their home league.
However, with Shakhtar Donetsk beginning to imprint themselves on European competition, captain Stepanenko is the midfield dynamo so critical to his side’s style. With 28 Under 21 appearances, Stepanenko has already caught the eyes of Serie A clubs, and should provide the real quality in a team that are likely to finish bottom of Group B.
Scott Sinclair – England
And so to ‘our brave lads’, and i’ll give you all ten pounds each if you don’t hear the phrase “young lions” uttered by one of our idiotic commentators.
It would be easy to suggest a player at a big club, particularly with Henderson and Jones on the move, but instead we chose Scott Sinclair.
A fantastic winger with great pace, Sinclair has the added attribute of scoring a ridiculously impressive amount of goals (27 goals this season). Surprisingly with just four U21 caps before Denmark, Sinclair will taste his first full season in the Premier League next season. Whether or not Swansea are relegated, he will stay there.